A little hate, followed by a lot of love: 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 650 first thoughts...
Let’s get the facts out the way first!
LAMS Approved (Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme) for NZ Market – Full Power Available @ 68ps/66nm
649cc Liquid-Cooled 4 Stroke Parallel Twin
6 Speed Trans, Electric Start.
59nm @ 6,500rpm
51ps @ 8,000rpm
192kg. 790mm Seat Height. 15L Tank
Assist & Slipper Clutch
Further Specifications Click Here
I’ll start by saying, I owe this bike an apology. When I got the confirmation I’d be receiving this bike for a little ride and review, I naturally took to the internet and started digging around the specifications for the LAMS version available here in New Zealand. I spat out my tea (yes, call me old) when I read about its ah… ‘voluptuous’ weight at the astounding figure of 192kg. Heck, this thing is on par with my 2020 ZX6R, and carries less boot to go with it. I couldn’t help but think this was going to be a tragic combination.
I was wrong.
I’ve been blessed with what some call duck’s disease. My rear end sits a little too close to the ground, and as such, I struggle to find almost anything I can comfortably come to a stop on. The 2018 Ninja 400 was my saving grace when I decided to start out riding, as it had both the lack of weight, and the fantastically low seat height. The 2020 Ninja 650 took me by surprise by following its little sister into the learner friendly seat height category. How odd. Never the less, it’s great noting it on paper, but coupled with it’s additional weight over the 400, it was really all about first impressions – something I was yet to try given I’d read more than I’d had chance to ride.
A few days after receiving my new voluptuous friend, a test ride was certainly in order. First thoughts, the bike looks great. Kawasaki have really focused their attention into developing bikes which look the part – a trend started by the 400 and carried through with the release of many of its models since. LED lights. Yes please. Once you’ve had them, you won’t want to go without. They don’t just look fantastic, but they are simply safer. That’s a big tick in my books. Another big yes, was the factory exhaust placement. Call me pedantic, but I cannot stand the stock exhausts that seem to stick out like sore thumbs on almost every other model… (Think 636, 400, ZX10R etc) The can is almost bigger than the bike.
On taking a seat upon my new trusted stead, I noticed the key placement. Something very Z650 like, right smack dab at the top edge of the tank. Nope. Not for me. It may be my inner OCD, but I feel the key placement should be central to your grips through the bars.
One primary draw of attention was Kawasaki’s all new 4.3” TFT display. Now, I like the display in my Ninja 400 and ZX6R – surprisingly one key reason I went for the 636 – but this new display, is good. And I mean really good. It modernises the bike to a level above its competitors and gives you more of the information you’d generally look for on smaller displays, without tapping away at a little round button until you finally hit what you want. It also comes equipped with Kawasaki’s Rideology App, connected via Bluetooth. I didn’t spend too much time playing, but what I did see, I liked. It reminds me of Audi or BMW’s Connected systems and having this level of usable technology on a bike, impressed me even more.
Time to ride. On taking off, I very quickly realised I had forgotten one essential component to riding any bike – adjusting the levers. My first ride did become rather amusing with the inability to brake or change gears comfortably, but once I came to a stop and had this sorted, it was all go again. I will note, even after adjustment, I did struggle a little with the reach (XS Ladies Gloves). I hope with use, they will bed in a little, but just something to note. I didn’t find this issue with my 400, even from new.
Time to get her going. I gather most of the Auckland Motorway probably heard my enthusiasm after I decided to give her a quick flick of the wrist, because damn, was I surprised. How can something so big, boogie so well? Coupled with a very thumpy exhaust note, I was a giggling git from the moment I set onto the motorway, right until I came off.
I decided to see if this was just my over enthusiasm from not riding road bikes for a while, so took her out on some country roads to see if I could manage the same shocked response. Alas, shocked I was. This thing boogies, and it does it well – even for a restricted model! The torque delivery is clean, the exhaust note growls. She tips into tight corners and comes straight back out without a hesitation in the world. Considering the 636 can throw epic tantrums if I decide to mess something up, the 650 just rolls with the flow and is very forgiving – reminding me so much like my 400 (which I still rate as the best learner bike available… for now…)
I came out of each corner grinning ear to ear and learning to love this voluptuous lady like it could be my own. For a bike with almost 90hp less than my 636, I arguably had more fun. I think people forget that as much as it’s cool to have such a ‘quick’ bike like the 636, the handling aspect is entirely different. It demands more focus, attention and brain power for every corner you wish to take – even on a dialed down power mode. The 650 was just fun.
To ensure I was covering all my bases, I did end up taking both the 636 and the 650 out for a spin, back to back. The long and short of it: after being blessed with a rather upright riding position and the ability to ride in whatever goofball manner I chose, I very quickly (20 minutes…) came back to the 650. The 636 really is aggressive when you compare it to our learner friendly Ninja’s (but less so than that of other supersport bikes available to the market). I felt very tipped forward, with my back beginning to ache, the longer I stayed put.
The more I ride the 636, the better the agreement between us becomes, but from a winter off riding her, I can confidently say the 650 welcomed my more casual riding antics with open arms.
Overall, I could see myself happily commuting on it during the week, with a spirited weekend ride to ease the commuter’s boredom. It’s a bike that can keep up around the corners, and will do so rather well, it really ploughs into it’s powerband (comfy at around that 4,000-8,000 range) and doesn’t want to kick you off if you happen to make a mistake. I had almost forgotten entirely about its fuller figure... until of course I had to move it around the garage.
The seating position is very similar to the  Z650, and I mean very. I jumped between the both of them often, and there was little difference. I do rate the Ninja 650 over the Z650 due to the Ninja 650’s fairings – they block a lot of wind. After a 30-minute ride down the Auckland Motorway on the Z650, I looked (and felt) like I had stepped out of a wind tunnel.
I would class myself as an intermediate road rider, with minimal experience, and a lot of learning to go. This bike really suited my style.
If you’re in the market for a learner bike and are debating whether the 650 could make the cut, I’d recommend giving it a go. To be fair, even if you are on your full and a hobby rider, the full power 650 will tick more boxes than you’d expect…
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